NASA and the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration are planning a nuclear weapon technology that would save the Earth from an asteroid impact. The device is called the Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response or HAMMER.
HAMMER will be capable to collide with smaller incoming space rocks to push it away from the Earth and make it land somewhere else in space. However, for larger threats, like an asteroid, it will emit a nuclear payload that can push the rock extremely away from Earth.
The concept being achieved is similar to what was presented in the 1998 disaster film “Armageddon” where an approaching asteroid poses a doomsday scenario. Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck were sent on a mission to destroy the asteroid by making it explode in space by detonating a bomb. With HAMMER, it will be detonating a nuclear bomb.
The most likely scenario may have been best described by a fictional film. However, the likelihood of an asteroid hitting Earth, as history has proven, was no longer an extraordinary thought.
Asteroids had hit Earth for the last 4.6 billion years. It was asteroid which brought the dinosaurs into extinction. And, most recently in 2013 it was asteroid airburst which broke windows and glasses in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
In fact, since 2016, NASA has been mapping the path of an asteroid through OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft. Based on recent calculations has a 1 in 2,700 chance of hitting the Earth. This asteroid is called Bennu and is measured to be as big as a village.
HAMMER is particularly designed with the asteroid Bennu in mind. As detailed in the journal Asta Astronautica, NASA and the Government have calculated that Bennu, being a 1,600-foot-wide ball that weighs 174 billion pounds and travelling in circular orbit with Earth, can trigger a blast of 1.15 gigatons of energy. It was estimated to be 23 times bigger than when a hydrogen bomb is detonated on Earth.
HAMMER shall slow the asteroid down, pull it closer to the sun, and nudging its trajectory off entirely away from Earth. Physicist David Dearborn from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory explained to Buzzfeed News that the plan may involved multiple HAMMER craft being thrown away in front of Bennu to slow it and change its course.
To date, HAMMER remains just a concept and the entities involved have not reached a stage of actual construction. However, they will be presenting their concept in May 2018 at the Catastrophic Disruption in the Solar System workshop in Japan.